Allison Geatches Cantor ’09: Making music for the movies

It’s Saturday night—date night for Gettysburg College alumna Allison Geatches Cantor ’09 and her husband, Lucas. Having just landed perfect theater seats—back row, center-left—the couple curls up, popcorn in-hand, for a showing of The Accountant.

Tensions are high, and the audience is captivated. The camera pans to a cerebral Ben Affleck—cue the synths, now the strings. As the film’s score engulfs the scene, Geatches Cantor smiles, leans over and whispers…

“I wrote that.”

Allison Geatches - Once Upon A TimeAs a graduate of the Sunderman Conservatory of Music, Geatches Cantor has built a stellar career in Los Angeles as a music composer for film and television. Partnering with acclaimed composer Mark Isham, she has worked on several pictures, such as Dolphin Tale, 42, and The Longest Ride, as well as the hit shows Once Upon a Time, Cloak & Dagger, and Black Mirror.

But long before her musical notes reached the silver screen, Geatches Cantor simply dreamed of reaching her toes to the piano pedals.

“I began playing piano at age 4 and composed my first piece at 5,” she said. “My parents aren’t particularly musical, it’s just something that I’ve always loved.”

The Lake, an original demo by Allison Geatches Cantor ’09.

At 11, inspired by the fantastical imagery of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she drafted her first full score. That’s when it clicked—composing music could be more than just a hobby; it could be a career.

“I never thought of composing as a job before putting the Harry Potter score together,” said Geatches Cantor. “As a kid, I wanted to send it to California, but I’m glad I never did because now I have it. I actually still listen to it regularly—it means a lot to me.”

From Hogwarts to Glatfelter Hall, Geatches Cantor ultimately found a great fit in Gettysburg College to pursue her passions.

“It’s kind of odd, but the first time I stepped foot on campus was my first day of classes,” said Geatches Cantor, who studied abroad in Germany for a year after graduating high school early. “But it lived up to all my expectations—the campus was gorgeous and the people were wonderful.”

Airhead from Visually Sound Pictures on Vimeo.

Listen to Geatches Cantor’s score for Airhead, a Project Greenlight short.

A music and religious studies double major, and German minor, Geatches Cantor often reflects on the encouragement she received from her Sunderman faculty, such as Profs. Buzz Jones and Jocelyn Swigger, and the many friendships she developed in the program.

“They taught me a lot of life lessons—how to practice, how to learn, and of course, time management,” said Geatches Cantor, who participated in concert choir, college choir, and Camerata, among other ensembles.

“One thing that made the Conservatory so special was having constant access to learning and growing musicians. As a developing composer, I could always ask, ‘Hey, can you play this on the French horn? I want to hear how it sounds.’ Sunderman students are all super helpful and so excited about what they do. I had 30 to 40 people involved in my senior recital alone—it was just incredible.”

Upon graduation, Geatches Cantor went on to study at Columbia College Chicago, record her thesis score at Capitol Records, and meet Isham—her current boss and mentor—for the first time.

Geatches with Isham“Before my internship with him, I was asked to come out to LA early. That’s when I did my work on Dolphin Tale,” she said. “Later, many on the team were in London to record the orchestra for the score, so while they were away, I took the initiative to organize the studio. When Mark returned, he loved it and said it was very helpful—honestly, it might actually be why I got that internship and ultimately this job!”

Today, Geatches Cantor has a full workload. In her role, she’s responsible for music prep; managing workflow; translating to notated score; and most notably, writing music.

It’s a lot to juggle, all within tight timeframes. But frankly, Geatches Cantor wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Truly, every moment since I started this job has been so surreal—like the first time you see your name in the end credits,” she reflected. “At one point, I remember Michael Giacchino saying how everyday in this industry is fun—I feel the same way. It is a hard job, but if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s consistently rewarding.”

To learn more about Sunderman standout Allison Geatches Cantor ’09, visit IMDb or her website.